Asian Americans Emerge as Savvy Art Consumers: Highly Interested in Art, Affluent Asian Americans Seek Works by Proven Artists

Article excerpt

Savvy. Ambitious. Affluent. Highly educated. Value-motivated. Asian Americans are America's fastest-growing ethnic consumers. Their buying power may reach $526 billion by 2008, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. What's more, they're prime art collectors, coming from countries known for their fine craftsmanship and age-old appreciation of art.

Developing a single profile of this demographic group poses challenges, noted Cynthia Lee, deputy director of programs at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas in New York. "The Asian-American community is so diverse," she said. It encompasses Vietnam, India, China, Korea, Japan and the Pacific Islands---countries that have distinctive cultural histories, religious beliefs and native languages.

Yet similarities exist, said Geoffrey Bonnycastle, husband of Chinese artist Jia Lu and president of Arcadia, Calif.-based Alius Fine Art, publisher of Lu's work. Bonnycastle described Asian-American art collectors as well-educated professionals who often manage businesses or own them. They ask questions and want to know all about the art that they're buying. They shop for contemporary masters, old masters and well-known names. They buy emerging artists, too, but art sellers need to be quick on their feet and have supporting material to prove these artists are on their way to the top.

A factor that can't be minimized, said Bonnycastle and other art dealers selling to this market, is cultural loyalty. Whether Asian Americans are buying traditional or contemporary, calligraphy on rice paper or pop art made from mixed media, they look for at least some reference to the Far East.

Speaking specifically about Chinese collectors, Bonnycastle said, "There's a real loyalty to China and its heritage and traditions. Whether Yao Ming is playing basketball or Yo-Yo Ma is performing in concert, Asian Americans come out and support them. They are quite proud of them. There's a real pride that drives the market"

Though Bonnycastle spoke specifically of the Chinese art community, art dealers representing artists from India, Vietnam and other Asian countries reported similar attitudes among their buyers.

Demographic Data

According to 2000 U.S. census records, 12 million Americans claimed an Asian heritage--a 72-percent increase over the 1990 census. At the end of the decade, the Asian-American population should increase by another 35 percent, predicted statisticians monitoring immigration figures.

Nearly half of Asian Americans live in the West. They make up 58 percent of Hawaii's population and 12 percent of California's. Strong Asian communities also exist in Chicago, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Detroit, Philadelphia and New York, according to an Asian market report issued by Home Accents Today.

Half of all Asian-American men and 43 percent of Asian-American women have at least a bachelor's degree. Among Asian Americans who claimed to own original art on the 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts conducted by the National Endowment of the Arts, 65 percent had at least a bachelor's degree. A fourth had a master's or doctorate. In addition, 40 percent earned $75,000 or more a year. For recreation, these art owners attended classical music concerts (25 percent), historic parks (45 percent) and art museums (65 percent).

Choice of Style

In 2001, artist Duc Nguyen opened the first Vietnamese art gallery in the Washington, D.C., area. At Lac Viet Gallery, Nguyen shows work by contemporary Vietnamese artists and Chinese painter Jia Lu.

Nguyen described his clients as doctors, lawyers and business owners. "Even though they have lived here for 20 years," he said, "they want to collect paintings that remind them of their country, like souvenirs." Some of his customers come from Vietnam. Others come from China and Japan. All seem to relate to an inherent familiar quality in the work. …